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CONVERTING THE SAUVAGE: JESUIT AND MONTAGNAIS IN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY NEW FRANCE BY Peter A. Goddard* The name sauvage1 gives rise to so very disparaging an idea of those who bear it, that many people in Europe have thought that it is impossible to make true Christians ofthem. But such persons do not reflect that God died for the barbarian as well as for the Jew, and that his spirit breathes where it wills. Good trees bear good fruits. . . . not only are true Christians among these sauvage peoples, but also many more in proportion than in your civilized Europe.2 At the vanguard of efforts to revitaUze early modern Catholicism,Jesuit missionaries arrived in New France with the ambitious aim of converting the scattered peoples of the northern forests to a pure and rigorous Christianity. Working on the frontier of an expanding faith and a burgeoning civilization, these French Jesuits offer an important window into conversion activity in the early modern world. In their thought, the process of Christianization was dependent upon the introduction of the institutions characteristic of advanced European social "Dr. Goddard is an assistant professor of history in the University of Guelph. He wishes to thankJames Muldoon and Cornelius Jaenen for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. 'The French term sauvage, in its early modern context, denoted the lack ofthe cultural and social attributes of civilized humanity. Unlike the later English "savage," sauvage did not reflect racial connotations which would make it entirely pejorative. Rather, it served as foil to and opposite of civil, or "civilized. "The term thus embodied condescension for social inferiors; as such, it could be applied to backwards or rustic French men and women as peoples, like the aboriginal population of the Americas, whose attributes suggested primitive life. For early French ideas of the bon sauvage, see Olive P Dickason, The Myth ofthe Savage (Edmonton, 1984), pp. 63-84. 2Claude Allouez, Relation of 1672-73, in Reuben Gold Thwaites (ed.), Thefesuit Relations andAllied Documents (73 vols.; Cleveland 1896-1901), Vol. 58, p. 85. Henceforward cited as "fR" The definitive series of mission writings, Lucien Campeau (ed.), Monumenta Novae Franciae (J vols.; Rome and Montreal, 1967-) will,when completed, supersede the nearly 100-year-old Thwaites bilingual edition. Henceforward cited as "MNFr 219 220CONVERnNG THE SAUVAGE: JESUIT AND MONTAGNAIS life and especiaUy of its control over what was perceived as depraved human nature. Thus French Jesuits caUed for ordered settlement, the uprooting of superstition, the reformation of the family, and the close regulation of individual behavior, or civilité, as essential elements of a demanding model of conversion. Yet Jesuits also tried to retain those aspects of autochthonous culture which did not contradict the faith, including "natural" virtues which would assist in the construction of the primitive church. Jesuits attempted to buffer new Christians from the corrupting effects of European contact, and, as the passage quoted above suggests, sought to raise the standards of CathoUcism everywhere through the example of the sauvage convert. New France was a laboratory for Jesuit efforts: tension and contradictory thrusts characterized their mission strategy. Seventeenth-century French Jesuits were beneficiaries of the rich missionary tradition of medieval Christianity. Since its 1540 founding, the Society had been devoted to "the advancement of souls and the propagation of the faith" among Turks, the peoples of the New World, and other infidels, schismatics, and pagans.3 Jesuits conceived ofthis activity , even in the wilderness of New France, as a continuation ofthe history of conversion of Northern Europe, coterminous with the assertion of Roman order. The Jesuit approach suggests both Gregory the Great's drive to complete the sacralization of monasticism through the preaching to pagans, and Boniface's concern to instruct in a calm and rational manner. By being all things to aU men, the Society would find the necessary foundations for Christian belief in the diversity of human experience .4 Jesuits sent to New France were weU equipped for this mission. Renaissance linguistic science allowed them to investigate diverse cultures, beliefs, and practices. Their classical education, in which both Aristotle and Cicero figured prominently, prompted Jesuits to compare native Americans to the ancient Scythians or to the tribal peoples of the...


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